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Lebanon’s sea turtles and their nests under threat 2 species lay eggs on the country’s beaches
Saturday 18 December 2004, by Web Team

BEIRUT: With sea turtles endangered throughout the world, Lebanon, and especially the South, has fast become known as one of the marine reptiles’ main nesting areas. Government measures designed to protect the animals and its fragile habitats have lagged behind the global trend.

"Sea turtles always come back to the place where they were born. Which means that if their nest was in Lebanon they will come back here to lay eggs even after 30 or 40 years," said Charbel Rizk, project manager at the Conservation of Wetlands and Coastal Zones in the Mediterranean Project within the Environment Ministry.

A recent sea turtle mapping effort along Lebanon’s northern borders with Syria to its southern limits with Palestine recently revealed that Lebanon’s beaches shelter the eggs of two species out of seven across the globe: The loggerhead sea turtle, Careta careta, and the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, of which there are only 200 (some say 400) in the whole Mediterranean. A third species also lands on Lebanese shores occasionally, the Leatherback turtle, Dermochelys coriacea, but it is considered a visitor since it doesn’t lay eggs on Lebanese beaches.

"One can find accidental nests in the North but urban development has made it impossible for turtles to find a good place to lay eggs," said Rizk.

"The green turtle is only found in the Southeastern part of the Mediterranean, which includes Turkey, Cyprus and Lebanon," said Monica Aureggi, a marine turtle specialist from the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles, who, for the past two months, has been studying the Tyre Coast Nature Reserve.

"On less than a 20 kilometer stretch we managed to find an important number of nests ... with many loggerhead nests in Tyre, and a high number of green turtle nests in Al-Mansouri," the turtle specialist said.

Under Rizk’s tutelage, awareness sessions have also been conducted every Saturday to help educate local children about the sea turtle.

"The point is to teach them how to find and protect turtles’ nests," he said, only the nests were fake and instead of turtle eggs the team filled the nests with ping-pong balls. "It already happened that some took advantage of these awareness campaigns to go search for eggs and collect them. Many think turtle eggs are an aphrodisiac, which is false anyway," he added.

Besides the prying hands of children, stray dogs and crabs are considered to be a sea turtle egg’s natural enemies.

So too, is human society.

Garbage, especially if left on the shore, can trap hatchlings on their way to the sea; it can also present a major obstacle for females who need to dig in the sand to lay their eggs.

In the sea, white or transparent plastic bags are often mistaken for jellyfish, a sea turtle’s favorite dish. Once swallowed, the animal can easily choke.

Tourist developments present another danger, since, besides the human presence, "the artificial lighting disorients the hatchlings on their way to the water and females do not venture on these beaches because they look for darker areas," said Aureggi.

Vehicles on the beach, fisheries, jet skis and the occasional though sand castle also present other dangers. To protect this animal, which dates back to the dinosaurs, the government has taken several measures since the late 1990s, including a law banning the hunting, selling and buying of sea turtles, passed in 1999.

A national action plan to protect sea turtles - which will use Aureggi’s report - is also in the works.

"The Daily Star" Lebanon, 2004/08/11 press article by Linda Dahdah

August 11, 2004

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